Saturday, December 24, 2011


Man's Maker was made man, that He, ruler of the stars, might nurse at His mother's breast.  That the Bread might hunger, the Fountain thirst, the Light sleep, the Way be tired on His journey - that the Truth might be accused of false witness, the Teacher be beaten with whips, the Foundation be suspended on wood; that Strength might grow weak; that the Healer might be wounded, that Life might die. - Augustine

I've been talking quite a bit lately about how unfathomable it is that the very God who created the universe came to earth and stooped so low to be with us.  How He enters the lowly places of this world and makes His home there, bringing hope and making all things new.

I am fairly certain there are no words that can describe this better than the picture above of my son, Tariku.  He is feeding ice cream to my inlaw's 98 year old neighbor who is in her last days under hospice care.

You may look at this picture and just see a sweet moment.

I look at this picture and I see healing and hope. 

I see a little boy who did not know compassion or kindness growing up.  You would weep crocodile tears if you knew what my son has been through. 

I see his burned hand stretched out to give away something he never received  in his formative years.  Not ice cream, but love. Simple and pure.

I see a transformed heart, a wounded healer.  And I look at my son and I know that it's true...that God makes beautiful things out of the dust.  That He gives us hope when there seems nothing to be hopeful about. 

I see God in my son.  I see it in how he sits so patiently with an old grandmother, without hurry, as if there's no other place he'd rather be in the world than right there.  And so is God with us.  Content to just sit with us and spoon feed us whatever we need.  To come and enter our situations and just be present.

I see a heart overflowing with compassion that has been born out of his own pain and brokenness.  It makes no sense, my son's capacity to love. 

I see what once was darkness and hopelessness now pouring out light and hope. 

Maybe this Christmas Eve you aren't feeling hopeful.  Maybe life's circumstances cause you to feel heavy, anxious or sad.  Know that God is sitting right beside you.  That to be with you is the very reason He came.  And He won't stop at just being with you.  He will be hope to you.  He will take your pain and your brokenness and make them beautiful...into a masterpiece even.  

He redeems everything.  Merry Christmas, friends.

*Just as I was getting ready to post this, Tariku came into the room and turned up the music I had playing.  He said "Mommy, this is my favorite song."  Then he wrapped his sweet little arms around me and rested his head on my shoulder while we listened to these words:

Your love never fails, it never gives up.  It never runs out on me.  On and on and on and on it goes.

It overwhelms and satisfies my soul

And I never ever have to be afraid

One thing remains.

The Love that came to be with us never fails, never gives up, never runs out.  To be sure, the people sitting in darkness have seen a great Light.

Monday, December 12, 2011

In The Dirt

Want to know what I love about God?  He's completely unpredictable.   He does things that are completely upside down and unexpected.  While the world looked to the sky waiting for the Messiah to come down with great procession and riches, Love came down in poverty - vulnerable, weak and helpless. 

Not only was the way He entered the world completely unexpected, but so was the city He chose.  Scripture says "Nazareth...can ANYTHING good come from there?"  I've often heard people refer to certain cities here in the U.S. as "the armpit of America". That's what Nazareth was...the armpit of the world.  So, of COURSE, that's where God chose to send His son.  Everything about how the Savior entered our world was revolutionary.  It didn't add up.  It made no sense. 

But you know what's really crazy? He chose to STAY.  He spent 30 years in the city of Nazareth.  Out of a place where there was nothing redemptive, came redemption Himself.  He stuck around the hell hole of Nazareth...He stayed with people in their brokenness, filth and pain.  He could have left.  He could have.  I'd never really thought about that before last night.  From day 1 on earth, God chose to BE WITH the marginalized, the least and the poor.  And not for just a moment, but for thirty years.  This is no fluke.  Jesus wanted to relate to us in our brokenness.  He didn't go live in a palace...that's not real life.  He went to the sick, the cast offs, the poor, the lonely.  He sat with them. He played with them as a child.  He laughed with them. He cried with them.  He LOVED them.  He REDEEMED them.  He entered their pain.  He went to them. He became lowly.  The God who placed the stars in the sky came so low.  And He stayed low.  He stayed in the dirt. 

Photo courtesy of Jobin Sam, who lives his life in the dirt with orphans in Calcutta

We must find the places of pain and heartbreak and live there because that's where Jesus is.  It doesn't mean we live depressed...God came to give us HOPE.  He came to call us out of our darkness and to live in the hope He offers.  But until we get acquainted with the grit, the grief and the sorrow of our world, just as Jesus did, we will miss Him.  WE WILL MISS HIM.  And I don't want to miss Him.  The thought of missing out on the fullness of who God is because I'm not WILLING to enter into the sadness of this world makes my heart hurt.  I want to be found willing.  O God, may I be found willing.

We see Jesus being in close proximity with the marginalized.  We see Him touching lepers.  Before I went to Korah (a leper colony in Ethiopia) the number one question I got asked was how I was going to protect myself and keep from getting leprosy.  May God deliver us from our mentality of being concerned for ourselves first.  If Jesus touched the lepers, why aren't we? If Jesus sought out the lonely, why aren't we? If Jesus was moved to tears by His compassion for His people, why aren't we? WHY AREN'T WE???

God chooses to reveal Himself through us to others.  Immanuel...God WITH us. God IN us. The nearness of God comes through the proximity of His people.  So, where are we?? Comfortably closed in our four walls?  If God's love is seen as we go, then I'd better find myself going.  I'd better be found engaging in people's messy lives.  Why wouldn't I if that's where Jesus is?? 

God came for me.  He came so low for me.  Will I choose to go low?  Who do I think I am that I shouldn't go low too?  God stooped so low to pick me up.  Do I realize that my soul will be satisfied more richly and fully when I choose the road of the broken? If I am running away from the low places, I am running the wrong direction.  God is not found where we think He would be.  The incarnation proved that.  He is found on the narrow path of the lowly.  He is found in their eyes, their tears, their smiles.  This is the God I've found...the God of the lowly.  And He's more beautiful than I possibly thought. 

May we be found willing...

Anathi's Story from Children's HopeChest on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


It's officially December.  The month we celebrate Immanuel - God WITH us.  The entrance of our Savior into the world.  What I love about the way God sent his son into the world is how simple it all was.  While there were great multitudes of angels celebrating His arrival, a handful of shepherds and three kings who traveled far to witness God incarnate,...the King of Kings made His entrance in a manger without fanfare. This is so symbolic of the humility and selflessness which would define His life (and should define ours as well). 

We celebrate Christmas because we celebrate the extravagant love of God, who sent us the most amazing, costly gift of His son.  The Creator of the universe modeled for us in an extraordinary way what it means to give.  God held nothing back.  He gave what was most precious to Him - His son. 

And we give too, when we celebrate Christmas.  In fact, we spend 450 BILLION dollars on Christmas.  That's a lot of giving.  But WHAT are we giving??  Do you know it would only take 10 billion dollars to solve the water crisis in the world?  There's just a little perspective.

A few weeks ago I asked my kids what they wanted for Christmas.  You should have heard the crickets in the room.  " don't really know". There you have it, folks.  My kids couldn't even tell me ONE thing they wanted for Christmas.  Know why?  Because they have SO ridiculously much and half of it they don't even use or remember that they have.  How sick is that? And yet, we are actually thinking about buying them more??

Something MUST give here, friends.  I say this for myself as well as for anyone else who can understand my heart here.  This Christmas, my kids are each getting 3 gifts - something to wear, something to play with and something to read.  The days of buying more stuff for the sake of buying more stuff are over.

Two months ago I watched children scavenging in a trash dump for food in Ethiopia.  I saw a 6x8 room where 7 people slept with one make shift bed.  I no longer have the audacity to say that I need anything. Or that my children do.  How about we take that 450 BILLION dollars we spend every year on Christmas (forgive me, but that figure makes my stomach churn) and give it to people who actually need something.  Those people are in our cities and around our world. 

I put my 6 year old adopted son from Ethiopia to bed tonight and he prayed this: "Dear God, please help the kids in Africa all have mommies and daddies like I do. And please help them have food to eat and clothes to wear.  And let them be happy like I am."  This coming from my child who weighed 20 pounds when he was 4 years old and suffered from extreme malnourishment.  This coming from my child who went without clothing.  He knows what a real need is.  He has lived it.  I can't tell you how humbling it is to be taught by my own child who has lived through and survived circumstances I could never in a million years imagine.  My child gets what a true heart of generosity looks like.  If there's a need and it's in our ability to meet it, then we should.  It's that simple.  Why wouldn't we?

And this Christmas, I have a practical way that you can be involved in doing just that.  A way that will provide dignity for a child and give them opportunities for education.

To go to school in Korah (Ethiopia), you need to have a school uniform.  I actually heard stories of families not sending their children to school because they couldn't afford the small (in our eyes) school fees and/or the uniforms.  Can you imagine that being a reason for our kids not to attend school??  It's completely unacceptable.  Most of the children I met there had one set of clothing to their name.  I'm not sure that any of the clothes actually fit the kids.  They just wear what they can find, be it too big or too little.  Because of the expense of a school uniform (on average $28 per uniform), most kids are wearing their uniforms from a year or two ago if they have one at all.  And that one uniform is worn every day all day.  You can imagine how tattered and dirty they become. 

This Christmas, I would LOVE to raise enough money for each of the 60 kids in the Hands for the Needy program in Korah to get a new school uniform.  That's $28 per uniform.  $28 to give a child dignity and opportunity for education. 

Will you join me in generously giving to these kids who truly know what need is? I think it would be so amazing for me to be able to tell my son that God answered his prayers and gave some kids in Africa clothes.  These lessons in God's provision are invaluable for our children.  And for us. :)

I believe there are more than enough readers of my blog to cover this need.  All we need is for 60 of you to step up and give $28 to provide a uniform.  We need a total of $1650.  That may seem like a lot of money, but if we all help, it can be done. 

What I haven't told you yet is how I was going to do a campaign for new shoes for the kids in Korah, but before I could write the blog post, the $900 was funded.  Then today, I was going to change directions and raise money for medical care for the kids since the shoes were funded, but before I could write the blog post, the $750 for medical care was completely funded.  My jaw has been on the ground all day long.  We have four fundraising projects going on right now for specific things and 2 of the 4 have been covered without having to ask anyone to get involved.  AMAZING. The only thing left on the list of four things after the uniforms are funded is a washing machine so that they can be washed efficiently and well.  Perhaps we can raise the money for the uniforms AND the washing machine (an additional $875)???  God LOVES these kids so much and is providing for their needs through people like you who are willing to sacrifice on their behalf. 

I would love to see this money raised by Christmas.  It can happen.  If my son can raise $5,000 for a water well in Africa in one week, we can certainly knock out these uniforms that cost $1650 in one month!

So here's how to do it:

1) Go to

2) Follow the directions on the page to give.

3) Be SURE to put “ET3008000″ in the Reference Number Field so the money is designated properly.

4) If you would like to put "uniforms" in the "Notes" field that would be helpful as well.

Five minutes of your time, twenty-eight of your dollars = a significant impact in the life of a child.  Education is life in Africa and you can literally help give a child a chance at a future they deserve for a mere $28.  Now THAT is a gift.  Thanks for considering this and for helping to spread the word.  Can't wait to post pictures of the kids in their new uniforms thanks to YOU! I'll keep you posted on the progress we make! Thank you, thank you, thank you for joining me on this adventure of learning what real need looks like and for helping to change the story for these kids in Ethiopia.  Giving is so beautiful.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving in the Handing Over

Our happiness comes not in the having, but in the handing over. God extravagantly pays back everything we give away and exactly in the currency that is not of this world but the one we yearn for: joy in Him. - Ann Voskamp

Sometimes, words aren't enough.  I look around and wonder how in the world I get to live this life.  I marvel at how my life looks nothing like what I once thought it would.  It's so much better.  Had I held on tightly to what I thought I wanted, I never would have known just how extravagantly God pays back when we surrender to Him...   

The JOY of adoption. My friend Katie said it best - "Adoption is a redemptive response to tragedy that happens in this broken world. And every single day, it is worth it, because adoption is God's heart." And it is SO worth it!


The beauty of living in missional community with people who know this truth...

The way I learn from my children how to love more fully...

Living in such a breath-taking place where I am daily reminded of God's presence...

Being a part of an organization that is transforming the lives of children all over the world and helping them reach their dreams...

Having a whole other family in Ethiopia that teaches me how to give my life away...

Living a life of shared passion with my best friend...

Falling in love with a community of orphans in Ethiopia who fill me up to overflowing... 

Yes,indeed. God always pays back extravagantly.  Always.  May you find joy in the handing over this Thanksgiving.

"Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. For the LORD is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.”    - Psalm 100:4-5

Sunday, November 20, 2011

All Things New

His face is etched on my heart, this 10 year old boy who lives at the garbage dump in Addis Ababa with his father.  His father, whose wife was murdered leaving him with 6 children he couldn't care for.  His father, who had to send four of his kids to government orphanages.  His father, who loves them all and must weep heavy tears over their separation.  As a parent, I can't imagine what it must take to make those kinds of choices. 

His son, Habtamu has a smile that swallows you up when you're lucky enough to get one. 

He was so shy when we first met at my friend Yemamu's feeding center. I wondered what his life must be like....what it feels like to wake up under a tarp in the city dump and know that this is your life. To watch your father work late into the night scavenging for metals and plastics just so you can have a little food.  He told me how he would walk very far down the road to wait for the garbage truck that was on its way to the dump from the Sheraton Hotel.  He told me how if the driver was nice, he would slow down so that Habtamu and his friends could jump on the back, making them the first ones to have dibs on the freshest garbage...the "best" food. 

I watched the camaraderie between him and his friends from the garbage dump.  I was amazed at his capacity for joy.

One of the board members from the Hands For The Needy center came for a visit one day with his young son.  I watched in fascination two worlds collide.  I watched Habtamu pick up the coveted soccer ball and hand it to this privileged little boy, smiling.

My eyes filled.  This ten year old knows that "happiness is found not in the having, but in the handing over."

And there I sat, learning lessons from a ten year old across the room.  The poor have much to give.  And the rich have much to receive from the poor.  And receive, I did from this little boy over the coming days. 

He was one of the 12 boys we took to buy new clothes and shoes for.  We ended up spending quite a bit of time together in a taxi going from one market to another.  And in that time, we bonded.  He sat beside me holding my arm and tracing the blue of my veins with his finger.  He was fascinated to be able to see what was under my skin. :) I showed him pictures on my iPhone of my family and of snow on the mountains.  I wrapped my arms around him and pulled him close, wondering how long it had been since he had felt a mother's touch. 

We spent a long day together trying to find shoes and clothing for all the boys.  Habtamu laid his head on me and fell asleep for a while.  I just kept thinking how badly he must miss his mother.  I wondered at how easily he let me just love him. 

We took them out to eat a good meal.  On the way home I was sitting behind him in the taxi.  He reached his arm up and pulled my hand over the seat so he could hold it. 

Black and white skin held each other.  I wondered if he knew his veins were blue on the inside too.  I wondered if by now he realized we were far more alike than we were different.  I needed him and he needed me.  He started fingering the diamonds on the wedding ring I had forgotten to leave behind in the States.  I immediately felt ashamed.  I wanted to pry it off my finger and hide the symbol of my wealth.  I thought about how much money I could get if I sold it.  I thought about how little it actually takes to change the trajectory of a little boy's life.  And my tears fell silently as I held his hand.  My heart cried out a repentant prayer. 

By now we were driving in the dark of night.  A garbage truck pulled up in the lane next to us and the boys started yelling out the window at the kids who were riding on top.  It would have been them that night, riding on top of that truck.  The irony was not lost on me.

I smelled the garbage dump before I made it out in the dark.  Habtamu squeezed my hand more tightly.  My heart started to beat a little faster.  Were we really just going to drop these boys off at the garbage dump to go sleep under a tarp?  Everything in me wanted to scream. It wasn't right. The taxi pulled over to the side of the road.  I think I was literally shaking as I stepped out to make way for the boys to exit the taxi.  Habtamu held a bag of left over food to give to his father who was working late into the night.  All twelve beautiful, stinky boys gave me hugs and said thank you.  Habtamu hugged me tightly.  I kissed the top of his head and told him I'd see him tomorrow.  He whispered thank you then wrapped his arm around his friend Zerehun and started walking into the piles of garbage.  I climbed back in the taxi and totally lost it.  Yemamu put his hand on my shoulder and told me they were okay...that they had each other and were happy.  And he was probably right.  But I still couldn't reconcile the fact that we had just dropped kids off to go sleep in the city dump while I went to my nice compound to sleep in my bed.  I wept all the way home. 

The coming days were filled with a lot of activity, but Habtamu and Zerehun started to accompany us wherever we went and just help out.  We took them both to church, which they loved.  I could feel the time ticking quickly away until I had to leave.  On the Sunday we left, we had Habtamu and Zerehun and my friend Lindsey's sponsored child with us at our compound.  Yemamu and Sisay were playing soccer with the boys.  They were running and laughing and tripping over each other.  It felt like a Sunday afternoon at my own house with my kids playing happily.  I smiled as I clicked away with my camera.

That Sunday afternoon was beautiful.  The boys were free to just be boys.  They played, they laughed, they joked around, they let down.  It was a blessing for all of us to just enjoy each other's company and love each other.  Saying good-bye was awful.  But I think all of us learned so much from each other in our two weeks together.  Watching these boys receive love from Yemamu and Sisay filled my heart.  I know that they are looked after and cared for by these two men who are investing their lives in them. 

It was only about one week after I got home from Ethiopia that Yemamu called me and said that Desse, Habtamu's father was gravely ill.  They feared for his life.  He was suffering from severe Hepatitis and had a raging infection that his body was not fighting off.  Yemamu and Sisay had brought him from the garbage dump to the Center and were trying get him medical attention.  Yemamu asked me to pray.  I had an immediate lump in my throat as he told me the news.  All I could think of was this...

I remember literally falling to my knees and begging God to spare this man.  I could not bear the thought of Habtamu losing his father too.  I simply couldn't.  Yemamu sent me this picture of Desse...

I literally asked everyone I knew to join in me in praying for this man.  About a week later, I got a phone call from Yemamu telling me that Desse was completely better.  He was healed. Totally and completely.  I'm pretty sure I was jumping up and down in my bedroom when I got the news. I was reminded of this scripture from Psalm 72:12-13:

For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death.

And that's exactly what happened.  Desse says that he was as good as dead, but that God reached down and rescued Him and restored his life.  Desse is now working at the Hands for the Needy Center as the gardener, tending to the crops they are growing.  Yemamu is working to secure a house for Desse and Habtamu close to the Center. 


Friday, November 18, 2011

Another World Is Possible

"Spend the whole of your one wild and beautiful life investing in many lives, and God simply will not be outdone." - Ann Voskamp

I was asked to speak this week to a group of women on the topic of "Gratitude in Serving".  I pretty much cried through the whole thing.  I cried because God's call to serve is so much more than us attending a "serving event", and we're missing it.  It's so much more than we allow it to be.  It's a call to death.  The core of the Gospel is a laying down of our lives for God and others.  When we surrender to that, something beautiful starts to happen inside us.  We die to our our own ideas and embrace the fuller life that God has for us as we live poured out for others.  And that kind of living will bring you to tears...the full, happy, grateful kind.

You know how sometimes someone will say something or you'll read something that puts words to the things in your heart?  I woke up to the following blog post that my friend Jobin wrote from Calcutta where he lives out his days loving and serving a community of orphans there.  I know that he won't mind me sharing it here with you.  Read slowly, friends.  There's a message in here that we need to understand in the fiber of our being.

It always starts with death.

I'm reminded of it in the silence of the streets that sigh with the displaced and the forgotten. In those dark lonely alleys sandwiched between slums. In the ashes of the night that once burned bright. In the wishes of the dying man for a second chance in a second world. In the dreams of the widow with a child in her arms. In the plea of the orphan with a story in her eyes. And even in the pages of the leather-bound Book beside my bed with the red letters.

There's no escape from it. There's no way but through it. There's no life but because of it. Everyday that I am alive, I behold brokenness and death in the dialectic of life. But this death doesn't refer to one that brings you to a box six feet under, rather something with a much deeper sense of the world. And although it's nonsensical to put that word in parameters, I write these words with reticence how it personally feels at a depth of 1200 feet below sea level. At a depth where death has less to do with the physical, but rather a dying which is so real through every breath of the metaphysical. The very eke of my existence is found between the meaning of the word from the pages containing the red letters. How I can only be alive to the orphan, when I die to myself. How I can only share in the suffering of the displaced, when I die to myself. How I can only care for the destitute and the dying, when I die to myself.

In the brokenness I daily behold, there's no denying the asperity and reality of physical death in the stories of the downtrodden, the destitute and the dying. Yet my own story is one that is knitted with death. That as I learn to lay my life down, I find myself standing my ground. As I learn to lose my life, I end up finding it. As I learn to die to myself, I find myself living for love. And to that end, I pray to live and move and have my being in Love.

I know that I'm nothing more than dust held together by water and blood. There's nothing more to these human frames fueled by the rise and fall of the cage within. Like a hero of mine puts it - this skin and bones is a rental, no one makes it out alive. Every breath I take brings me one step closer to the grave. Every tear that is shed brings me closer to a cross. Every day that I wake up, I die a little more. So I die and die again to be reborn for the Kingdom of the Heavens, where I lose my life to find myself. Like a seed that falls to the ground and dies, like a tear that is shed of our eyes, like a candle burning bright, nothing worth living comes any other way. Because it is the loss of a life-less yet life-giving seed that springs something new. It is the heaviness of a teardrop on bended-knee that brings a lightness to the yoke of the cross. It is the pain in feeling when all is melting away like wax on a candle that brings light to these dark lonely alleys. And this death and rebirth brings to a place 1200 feet below sea level, which evidently is the lowest point on the planet. It's where I find myself with nowhere lower to go, and nothing left to let go.

Sometimes I really do feel like someone who has lost it all, but I become reminded again of how much more needs to die in me. When I think of these writings, to be reminded that I'm not the author but a messenger. When I think if I could ever share this life with, to be reminded of the orphan waiting to be held. When the moments move fast from unwavering faith to creeping doubts, narrow roads to unexpected turns, mountain tops to crashing valleys. Like a common friend without any company, like a singer without his song, like a father without a son. I'm still looking for a place to belong, still searching to be found again. There is an ecclesiastical longing through the emptiness to remind me that with nothing left of myself, there is more of grace. That the end of myself, is where it all starts. The beginning is always where my end begins. It always starts with death.

And broken as I am, weak as I am - grace is what I am.

So my tears become words to sing, and I live dying to life, to live for Love. I'm trusting that even in the emptiness of my well, I can draw from a river that doesn't run dry. There is river here somewhere 1200 feet below, and here in this river I'm reminded of a death which is ephemeral but a rebirth which is eternal. That life is but a vapor, and Love is like a river. And I'm just humbled that the Maker of the Heavens would use someone as broken as me, to behold beauty in the brokenness and life in the ashes.

In a world of 3D, 3G and be all you can be, I'm learning what it means to be free. From a world that could never placate to what I'm buying by what it has to sell, but to live in the absolution of another world. I'm done chasing chartered territories and certitudes. I hear another world calling. A world where those who mourn will be comforted, and the last will be first. A world where every tear will be wiped from our eyes, and justice will be our right-side. So I chose to live today for the coming world, as an advocate of the poor and a lover of the least. Yes, it starts with death, but death is only the beginning. Another world is possible. It's in you, it's in me.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Time Is Now

I had a conversation with a friend this week about the tension that exists in using our voices.  Sometimes I feel like I am constantly talking about issues - the orphan crisis, sex trafficking, poverty and disease.  This past week as the situation at the Son of God Orphanage in Haiti unfolded, I know every facebook status of mine and many others, was trying to rally people to sign a petition and make noise so that the orphanage would be closed.  I was thinking about how people scrolling through their facebook home page would sigh as they saw yet one more status of mine about the kids in Haiti.  I bet some (or many) were thinking "Can't she just go back to posting funny videos of her son or talking about the weather?  This is getting annoying."  Believe me, I've had the same response to others.  We so easily grow tired of people "bothering" us with all this depressing stuff.  

How much is too much?  Is there such a thing as too much as we in the Western World sit back sipping our latte's, playing games on our iPads while every two minutes a child is being prepared for a sexual act and we turn a blind eye, not wanting to be bothered?  I think there's a reason God told Isaiah to "Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God."

I personally have spent many years being one who "seems eager to know God's ways" but have all the while refused to actually DO anything that reflects the God I know today.  I have filled my head with knowledge while my heart remained closed off and self-consumed.  I have said all the right things in religious crowds while never lifting a finger to actually do the things that I spoke about.  I talked myself into a religious experience where it was all about MY comfort.  MY box that I wanted God to fit into neatly.  I made Him exactly who I wanted Him to be...

A God who gives me everything but costs me nothing.

But the reality is that it cost God EVERYTHING to rescue me.  How can I not give Him EVERYTHING in return, no matter the cost?  Standing up against injustice will cost us.  It will.  There is a price to pay emotionally, physically and spiritually for loving the people God loves enough to fight for them.  You will be disturbed by what you see and read to the point of becoming physically ill and distraught.  You will spend hours of your time praying and crying out to God on behalf of His children who are in horrific circumstances.  You may not be able to walk through a grocery store without feeling a sense of guilt.  You may even feel alone.  I know I do sometimes.  But, it's worth it because God is there. 

I was talking with my friend about the Old Testament prophets...these men carried such an incredible burden.  They carried the very heart of God for His people.  And they were often lonely.  Not very many people wanted to go hang out with the dude who was likely going to tell them that God was displeased with them.  I am sure these men often felt like no one cared about their message (God's message), yet they continued to speak out in obedience to God. They wept over the people and situations in the Old Testament. They saw God's heart for His people and were compelled by God to speak out against injustice and oppression. Often it fell on deaf ears, but sometimes it didn't.  Sometimes these guys would deliver their message and entire nations would change their ways.  Can you imagine? 

What if God wants to use OUR voices to create that kind of change in our families, in our communities, in our nation and in our world?  What might have happened if no one had raised their voices to speak out against the injustice the children at Son of God Orphanage in Haiti were suffering?  Those kids likely would have continued to be sold, abused and starved to death.  It took ONE WEEK of all of us raising awareness of the situation for the orphanage to be closed and the children removed.  Those kids are going to have the opportunity for health and wholeness now that they never would have had if we had not spoken up together.

When I think of all the people in the world who need our compassion, our prayer and our action I don't know how we can afford NOT to engage.  WE are the very people God was talking to in Isaiah 58.  WE have chased after a watered down religion long enough, honoring God with our mouths while our hearts are far from Him, unwilling to be the people He created us to be because of the cost.  The time has come to "throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us", as Hebrews 12:1 says. 

The time is NOW to get on our knees and beg God to instill in us His heart for the people in this world who are suffering.  The time is NOW for us to willingly get dirty in the mess of this world, just like God did for us.  The time is NOW for us to cast aside our comfort and complacency and engage in what God is already doing on this earth.  If we want to live a life of joy and fullness, then we will have to lay our lives down again and again.  God's call to abundant life has never been about the abundance of our things or our comfort.  It has always been an abundance that is rooted in sacrifice and selflessness which springs out of His love for us. 

God, rescue us from our prisons of saftey and self. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Use Your Voice

“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” 
- Proverbs 31:8-9

Right now miles and miles away from us in Haiti there is an orphanage where about 125 children have been sent in the recent past to be cared for, fed, educated and loved. I know of this orphanage personally because Children's HopeChest was at one time connected to it.  A pastor and his family ran the "Son of God" orphanage and collected money for food and medical care for the children. It has recently come to light after a fifteen month investigation that the pastor who ran this orphanage was trafficking the children.  The children were never receiving food, education,  medical care or love.  As it turns out, they have been living in hell.  They have been and are being abused, starved, burned, neglected and trafficked. My stomach churns even typing those words.  We can't begin to know the horror these children have faced and are facing at this very moment. 

Here are some of the facts that have surfaced (much of this is taken from my friend Tom Davis' blog post):

- Children have been and are currently being trafficked from the Son of God Orphanage. The evidence on human trafficking leads back to the Son of God orphanage. The orphanage director was imprisoned in July as part of a police-led operation that resulted in his conviction of trafficking a child.

- Haitian investigators have told our team the evidence suggests organ harvesting and trafficking as well.

-As recently as October 10, American volunteers took children with late-stage starvation out of the orphanage and to local doctors. Without this intervention, the doctors confirmed the children could have died of starvation.

- After boldly bringing these facts to the attention of government officials, American citizens received death threats from those associated with the current orphanage leadership–documented by the Haitian police.

- Numerous photos show extreme physical abuse and neglect. U.S. and Haitian doctors have documented cases of severe abuse and neglect including burns and broken bones. (The following pictures are children at this orphanage and come from a legitimate source on the ground in Haiti who is fighting for these kids.  I share them with you to motivate you to do something on their behalf). 

Obvious Neglect

Burns around the mouth

13 Day Old Burn

Where once there were 125 children, there are now just over 75 children left.  They are disappearing.  These children are being trafficked and there is evidence of organ harvesting. 

If ever there was a time to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, it is NOW - as in this very minute. This trafficking is REAL, it is documented, and it must be stopped. Every moment is precious.

We need your help to spread this news to the CNN Freedom Project by signing our petition today. We are petitioning CNN to bring their international media voice and passion for ending slavery into the Son of God Orphanage. Please urge CNN to expose the corruption within the Haitian government, and allow international organizations to secure the children from the child traffickers who are now controlling the orphanage.

This orphanage must be shut down. Other orphanages are ready and willing to take these children. Please urge CNN to cover this story and work to close this orphanage and re-locate the children immediately.  We need coordinated, concerted pressure. We believe the best chance these children have is through a focused effort to bring international media and political attention to their abuse, and neglect. Children in Haiti at this orphanage are being trafficked. They are being abused, burned, and starved. We have other orphanages ready to take these children, but need to bring MORE focused attention to this matter so that official action will be taken now. Take time to stop this. Sign the petition, and get everyone you know to do the same.


Please, please use the voice that God gave you to speak for those who cannot speak for themselves.  These children are innocent victims who literally need rescued.  In ADDITION to signing the petition (we need 10,000 signatures!) please flood all available outlets. 

You can:

- Post to Facebook and urge your friends to sign the petition.  

- If you use Twitter, tweet this right now, using hashtags #cnnfreedom, #endslavery, and #not_for_sale

- Call your elected officials and forward them this article. We can provide the file of evidence DIRECTLY to their office for further investigation.

- Re-post on your blog

Thank you, friends.  I will keep you posted as things unfold.  In the meantime we pray without ceasing for rescue for these children.

UPDATE: As of 10/18 we have over 7,000 signatures on our original petition to CNN and have had three national news agencies say they are looking into the story.  There are contacts being made with the government - there is MOVEMENT on behalf of these kids as of today!  We are starting a follow up petition to the President of Haiti to close the orphanage down.  We have been told that will feature our petition to the President on their front page, which receives heavy traffick, if we can get enough signatures on it.  Your voices are bringing this atrocity to light.  We must continue to apply pressure.  Please share the link below with your friends and ask them to do the same.  It's two minutes out of your day.  Your two minutes for a child's health and rescue...not a bad use of time.


Friday, October 7, 2011

What's in Your Hand?

After my first trip to Africa - Uganda, to be exact - I came home with tons to process.  It was my first encounter with extreme poverty face to face and I felt like it ripped open my insides.  Seriously - like I was raw and bleeding.  I'll never forget riding in the bus on a long, dirt road and passing a little boy...he couldn't have been more than three.  He was walking all by himself barefoot with not another person in sight for as far as I could see.  He was completely alone.  If we saw that scene unfold in America, we'd be slamming on our brakes and bringing that child with us.  There would be none of this leaving him on the street by himself business.  But in Uganda, we drove on by.  If we had stopped for every child who was walking alone we'd never have made it down the road. It is life there.

I've had several people who have traveled and seen this sort of thing personally, ask me how to cope with their life here in America after witnessing such pain in other places.  I'd like to say it gets easier with every trip.  For me it doesn't get easier, but it has become different.  I remember after my first two trips to Africa coming home and feeling this insane tension inside of me.  How do I go back to my air conditioned home with my full refrigerator, cable television and every single comfort I could possibly want? How do I turn on one of the 8 faucets in my house and have immediate access to clean water when people risk their very lives walking miles and miles a day to find it?  How do I open my closet and decide which of my 12 pairs of shoes I should put on for the day when so many go barefoot and have jiggers burrowing up into their feet? How is it I can find myself complaining about my job when literally millions would give anything for the chance to work like I do?  As I lay in the comfort of my down blankets and soft mattress at night, how can I not help but think of the children who lay their heads down on the dirt - left alone.

I am talking about TENSION in the truest sense of the word.  Let's be honest.  We abhor tension.  We hate anything that causes us discomfort.  And when I came back from Uganda I just wanted to be rid of it. I wanted to figure out how to make it go away and stay away.  I didn't want to have the internal struggle about how much I had and how little they did.  I didn't want to feel guilty for getting Starbucks or going to the movies.  As much as I know God was trying to break my heart and help me embrace the poor and the orphaned, there was a very real part of me that just wanted their faces to disappear from my memory.  I didn't really know how to handle all the tension and inner turmoil I felt, and to be frank, I still don't.  But this last trip to Ethiopia helped me realize some things. 

I hope that what I'm learning on this journey might help some of you who feel the same way I do - torn. I know all of our paths and journeys are different, but at their core they are the same because God is always the same.  His heart will always beat for the marginalized and the oppressed.  So, that means our hearts should always beat for them too.  And in that, we are the same.  We are responsible.  We are called to do something.

I think that what I'm learning now is that as much as I want to sprint the opposite direction of this tension, there is some tension that is good - God given, even.  Rather than fight it, ignore it, choke on it or hate it - I am learning to embrace it.  The tension keeps the realities that our brothers and sisters all over the world face real for me.  It keeps them always before me.  I almost would liken this kind of tension to a burden.  There are different kinds of burdens.  There are the heavy kind that we feel we might collapse under, then there are the burdens that are almost like extensions of ourselves.  They inhabit our hearts and thoughts...they can actually bring us joy because they are rooted in love.  There was a period of time where I thought I might collapse under the knowledge of how people were living.  I felt like I was suffocating in my own life - held captive by the pictures of distended bellies, gaping wounds, empty eyes and crying children. I came through that rather heavy season of my life by both accepting the things that God was teaching me and learning that I wasn't helpless to make a difference.

But this other kind of tension doesn't feel so heavy.  In fact, it even feels hopeful.   I have actually found myself praying over the past few weeks that God wouldn't take this tension away.  It's what keeps me compassionate, engaged and on my knees in prayer.  I have seen the heartbreak and the oppression up close- I know the wretched marks it leaves on people.  But I have also seen unspeakable hope spring up in places that you just don't expect it to.  And that is what we hold onto - HOPE.  Some days hope comes easy, and others we have to tenaciously fight for it.  But it is always there.  It doesn't go away.  Part of what gives us hope is discovering our purpose.  If we are called to care for the poor, the orphan and the widow (which we ARE!), then discovering how God wants us to be engaged in that is a critical step in coming to some sense of peace within ourselves.  The other helpful (and quite obvious!) realization is that I cannot fix all the brokenness on my own. I could spend a lifetime trying but it would never happen.  That's God's job.  I get to participate, but I, by myself, am not the answer. My job is to love and obey wherever, whenever, however God asks me to.

For those of us who believe in God, we know that this world is not our home.  We live in the constant tension of that.  Our hearts ache for God's complete and full reign here on earth because only then will there be no suffering and pain.  Only then will our tension vanish before our eyes.  But we are to bring heaven to earth now.  Remember how Jesus prayed a little prayer where he said "Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven"? We do not sit here aimlessly and pine away for the future.  We bring the reality of God's love, hope and restoration to the suffering and marginalized NOW.  Does the act of truly seeing the needs of this world turn our stomachs?  Does it cause us to question the way we live our lives in pursuit of the American dream? Does it cost us to enter into someone else's pain?  Might we be asked to give up everything we know? Is there any peace or joy in the process of having our hearts torn open and our lives turned upside down? Yes, yes, yes, yes, YES!!

God hasn't created us to live sad, miserable, broken lives.  He has created us for abundant life in Him.  While our engagement in caring for the poor might cause our world to be shaken up and our hearts to ache and be burdened - there is tremendous joy in this journey of loving others.  When we look at Jesus' life, we see him weeping over the pain of others and literally carrying the weight of the world's sin on his shoulders.  But he also got to see the lame walk, the the blind see, the sick healed.  These things must have filled Jesus with pleasure.  You don't watch someone who has never even stood up, pick up their mat and run and leap for joy without feeling an incredible sense of delight!  And so, we hold both the pain of those who suffer and the joy of seeing lives transformed in both hands.  If we never knew pain, we would never know joy. 

Some days are HARD.  I was face down on my floor two days ago weeping (like ugly snot know the one) and praying for people on the other side of the world who face such extreme hardship.  I thought my heart would explode from the weight of it.  Then there are days where you get news that catapults you to the heights of joy because a prayer was answered or you got to see transformation in the life of someone in need - you got to experience the kingdom brought to earth.

So really, coping is embracing all that God has for us - the good, the hard, the beautiful, the ugly, the seemingly impossible.  It is by Him and through Him that all things hold together.  We couldn't hold anything together if we wanted to.  We just have to approach God with willing hearts and open hands for whatever it is that He wants to give us.  The tension that may come from that is GOOD, a blessing really. I might even go so far to say that if we aren't experiencing this kind of tension as we walk out our love for God on this earth, then maybe we're missing something.

As to exactly what your part is to play in God's purposes here on earth...that's for you to find out. :) And in my opinion, finding out is half the fun!  I'll leave you with some wise words from Norma Cook...

We read in the Bible that Moses had been tending sheep out in the desert when God called him to lead a huge flock of people on a perilous journey to the Promised Land. Of course, Moses felt inadequate, and told God so! God asked Moses, “What is that in your hand?” “A rod”, Moses replied—just a simple tool of the trade for a sheep herder. Then God showed Moses that even simple tools and simple people can be used in mighty ways when yielded to an Almighty God.  Maybe God is showing you a need that you feel inadequate to meet. Your resources are insufficient and your skills are lacking. God couldn’t possibly use someone like you…could He?

2 Corinthians 8:12 tells us: 'If there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what a person has, not what he doesn’t have.' So…what is that in your hand? A pen, a phone, or car keys? A hammer, a wrench, or a shovel? A mixing bowl, knitting needles, or a musical instrument? When offered to God in service to others, it can accomplish a great purpose. It all starts with a tender heart and willing hands—yours and mine. And together, we’ll see God change this world - one person at a time.

So, what's in your hand?? 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Extracting the Precious from the Worthless

Etanaite and her son

1. a person who is rejected or cast out, unwanted, not accepted
2. rejected matter; garbage

She lives in a community already rejected by the world around it. Yet, within Korah she has been tossed aside herself. It's a curious thing, how people who are outcasts themselves can put that label even more brutally on one of their own. She did nothing to cause this, nothing to deserve being shunned by her own community.

She was raped. Just before turning 17.

She now has a son just one year old as a result of that rape.

And while she may be labeled an outcast, she has a name - Etanaite. And behind her name is a beautiful human being, both inside and out.  If people would only take the time to see.

My friends Yemamu and Sisay did take the time to see.  Because of that, we were welcomed into Etanaite's home to hear her story firsthand.  

We stepped into her one room house to find her little brother and her son playing by the bench.

The room couldn't have been more than 6x8. We asked how many people lived in the room.  There were 7 of them.  Etanaite's mother, Etanaite and her baby, and Etanaite's four siblings.  

They all slept on this bed or on the floor...

There used to be eight of them in this small room, until about 6 months ago when her father died.  He was blind and would go into the city to beg on the streets. The money he brought home would feed them on some days.  After his death, Etanaite's mother, Zenebe, went to the garbage dump to scavenge for food and materials to sell.  The dump is where she found the bottle her grandson is holding below. Dirty doesn't begin to describe it.

Zenebe and her grandson

After Etanaite was raped and gave birth to her son, she found work outside the city in the countryside making fabric.  She made 450birr ($26)a month.  Half of that money went to pay the rent for their one room house and the other half went to pay for her transportation to work.  There was no money for food other than what her father brought in from begging.  When he died, the family started struggling even more. Zenebe started going to the dump with her grandson on her back to find food.
What heightens the tragedy of this situation for me is that this family is alone.  Because of the stigma associated with rape and with giving birth out of wedlock, they are shut out. They live in a community that they are not welcomed in.  As we listened to Etanaite tell her story, tears slid down her face.  Now, at the age of 18, she knows she has no prospects for marriage because of a horror that was perpetrated against her.  Along with mourning the loss of her father, she mourns the loss of her future. Or at least she did, until Love walked through the doorway of her house in the form of Yemamu and Sisay. Jeremiah 29:11 says that God has plans for Etanaite.  Plans to prosper her and to give her a hope and a future. And that is exactly what is happening.
Can you even imagine what Etanaite must have thought as Yemamu and Sisay came into her home and asked how their family was?  When was the last time anyone had asked that simple question of her? But they went further than just talk.  They registered her siblings in their feeding program to help alleviate some of the financial stress on the the family.  And they then proceeded to offer Etanaite a job at the Center helping to cook and clean, which she joyfully accepted.  They pay her twice what she was making at her job outside the city and she now just has to walk for two minutes to work, allowing her to use her transportation money for something else.  Etanaite's brother had been struggling and sleeping at the garbage dump without coming home since their father's death, but now that he is enrolled in the feeding program he has changed.  She says he comes home every day and is like a different person.  Etanaite said that they have so much hope now.

We had bought baby bottles, blankets and a new dress for Zenebe, which we gave to her on our last day in Ethiopia. Yemamu and Sisay had brought two mattresses from their own home to give them so that the children would not have to sleep on the dirty, hard floor. Etanaite's tears flowed freely upon receiving the gifts.  I asked Yemamu why she was crying and he said it was because she was very, very happy.  She said no one had ever treated them this way and cared for them like this.  She said that she thanked God for the new life they could start to make for themselves because of the feeding program and her new job.
What I really think she was thanking God for was that someone had stopped to see their pain and enter into it with them.  Someone had cared.  There's a little verse tucked away in Jeremiah 15 that says "And if you extract the precious from the worthless, you will become My spokesman". That's exactly what Yemamu & Sisay have done.  They have taken time to see that which is precious hidden away in the seemingly worthless, and they have called it out.  By their love and care for Etanaite she is seeing that she is NOT an outcast to the One that really matters - to the One who knit her together and knows the number of hairs on her head.  She is a daughter of the King and is valuable and precious in His eyes. 
And isn't this every one of our stories, really?  Hasn't God taken our broken, messed up lives and transformed them into something beautiful and precious? Hasn't He rescued us from the label of outcast and given us an identity as His own children, despite our history? Hasn't He offered us hope?

There are Etanaite's all around us...people who have been rejected and labeled.  Will we make the choice like Yemamu did to seek them out? Will we reach out in compassion and kindness?  Will our actions on their behalf prove our words to them? Will we reflect the heart of God in extracting the precious from the worthless?

"For God is a God of the humble, the miserable, the troubled, the oppressed, the despairing, and those who have become totally nothing. He lifts the lowly, feeds the hungry, heals the blind, comforts the miserable and troubled.  For He is the almighty Creator who makes everything from nothing." - Luther